Native to the Americas
It’s a flower. No, it’s a food. Wait, it’s both and more. The big, beautiful Sunflower is one of the most recognizable plants with its bright yellow blooms and its seeds. Although there are many different types of Sunflowers, the main differences are in the size of the plant and the flower. Giant Sunflowers can grow to over ten feet in height while the smaller plants resemble daisies. There are varieties that will grow up to 20 feet in height as well. American Indians knew the value of this plant and used the seeds to make a sort of cake, snacked on the seeds just as we do today, and used the colorful blooms to make dye for clothing. Today, we use Sunflower seeds as a popular snack. Sunflower oil is considered a healthful food.
The Sunflower is a native of North America but made its way to South America and on to Europe. It spread from Spain to Russia in the 1800s where it was adapted for its oil content. In industry, Sunflower oil is used in some paint products as well as varnishes and plastics. Sunflower seeds are also used in feed for various animals. It’s the gorgeous Sunflower itself that is so charming and bright that helps make this plant so popular with gardeners. Easy to plant and requiring almost no maintenance, it is especially popular with children who delight in the tall plants and invariably try to roast and salt the myriad of seeds produced.
Growing Recommendations - Sunflower
The Sunflower is an annual and is known for its phototropic abilities. The flower will follow the sun’s progress across the sky. Plant Sunflower seeds in full sun in well-drained soil. Sunflowers grow in a variety of climates, but they prefer slightly cooler temperatures with the optimum temperatures for growth being 70 to 78 degrees. Sunflowers will grow in nearly any type of soil. In areas where there is not winter to speak of, Sunflowers can be planted during any month of the year. Because most varieties of sunflower grow so tall, consideration should be given to placement. Sunflower seeds are planted directly into the soil, but they need to be covered by a screen so that birds and other small animals will not dig them up. It will take up to 90 days until the plants reach maturity. Water them an average amount as Sunflowers are somewhat drought tolerant but can benefit from fertilizer. Harvesting the seeds takes place after the blossom has died back and the petals have almost all fallen off. Cut off the heads and hang them up if possible so that they can dry. Do not stack them or they may become moldy. Flowers can be cut when they are full and used in either fresh or dried arrangements.